Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sarah Palin and identity politics in SF

John McCain's choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate should show city progressives the folly of identity politics, but I suspect it will be a lesson unlearned, since this peculiar prog parochialism seems to be an integral part of city politics.

As a candidate for District 5 Supervisor, I've accumulated a lot of samples of identity politics in the questionnaires I get from the city's many interest groups. Alas, this foolishness is being passed on to the next generation. From a questionnaire from a group called "San Francisco Young Democrats":

If elected, what ideas and commitments would you put forward to engage more of San Francisco's young people in the political process?...Please describe in sufficient detail at least one of your accomplishments that has improved the lives of young people...Please explain how your experience would make you an effective advocate for young people as an SFYD office holder...

Sorry, kids, but you're on your own. Crank up your laptops and disconnect your ipods. If you're interested in politics, you have to do what the rest of us do, which is read a lot of material, starting with the daily and weekly papers, and go to often boring meetings on the subjects you're interested in, where you will get more reading material and can talk to people about your issue/issues. There's no shortcut, and young people aren't entitled to any special consideration.

A women's group, the San Francisco Women's Political Committee, makes an even cruder pitch:

How will you promote the election and advancement of women in local, state, and federal elections? How will you support the appointment of women to the City's commissions and boards? What have you done in the past to promote the election and advancement of women in local, state and federal elections, and/or the appointment of women to the City's commissions and boards?

No dice, girls. You too are on your own. The assumption here is that promoting women just because they are women is a step forward for women in general. Unless you are an outright gender fascist, this is surely false, since, like us guys, women don't come in convenient, one-size-fits-all packages. There are smart women and dumb women, competent women and incompetent women, conservative women and liberal women, etc. The other tacit assumption is that, everything being equal, you should support/promote women because historically they have been an oppressed group. But are all things ever really equal?

The Asian-Pacific Democratic Club suggests a quota, which is implicit in all identity politics:

The Asian community is one third the population of San Francisco, yet we are vastly underrepresented on the Board of Supervisors. We have yet to elect a Mayor who happens to be Asian...As an elected official, what steps would you take to prevent Asian flight to the suburbs?

So Asians are going to feel under-represented until they get four seats on the Board of Supervisors? (It will take four seats, since three would be less than 33% on the 11-person board.) One gets the impression that whoever formulated these questions wants to keep Asians in the city just so they can achieve this quota. What's unexplained is exactly how the political interests of ethnic Asians differ from the rest of us. Presumably they too want safe streets, good schools, an improved Muni system, etc.

It's been suggested that women will also be under-represented until they have at least 50% of the seats on the Board of Supervisors. Again, this will require at least six seats for the girls on the 11-seat board.

That your group is entitled to some kind of special consideration is the assumption underlying identity politics. The Republicans playing the gender card seems to have flummoxed and outraged a lot of Democrats, as if they should have a monopoly on identity politics. If John McCain is so shameless that he can advertise himself as an agent of change, there's nothing he and the Repugs won't stoop to, least of all counterfeit identity politics as per the Palin Ploy.

But it's the very practice of identity politics we need to question.
Is there a useful women's, black, gay, or Asian perspective on homelessness, Muni, the awful Market/Octavia Plan, the Bicycle Plan, or the UC/Evans plan to turn the old extension property on lower Haight Street into a massive housing development? Nope.

Interestingly, however, one of the ways UC/Evans sold their rip-off of that property is by agreeing to set aside 80 of the 450 planned housing units for gay seniors, which is probably why Mr. PC, Supervisor Mirkarimi, flip-flopped on the project and now supports it. But pandering to the gay community does not make UC's proposed project any better for that part of town; it's much too big, the traffic studies in the EIR are laughably inadequate, the UC/Evans development is going to trash a site that is both a state and national landmark, etc. Nor does it mitigate the fact that UC lied---they were too poor, you understand, to maintain the property---about why it quit offering university extension courses to working people at that site.

Lesson #1 of John McCain's Palin Ploy for San Francisco: There is no identity political perspective that sheds any light on transportation, housing, development, homelessness, or any other important issue facing San Francisco.

Lesson #2: Identity politics inevitably leads to political pandering to various groups by city politicians, as per Mirkarimi's flip-flop on the massive UC housing development because of the housing for gay seniors. Now that's lipstick on a pig.

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